Tuesday 28 June 2016

A Family War by Stewart Hotston - A Review

This was an interesting read. For me Science Fiction can go two ways - tech heavy (which usually turns me away) or tech light (which I tend to quite enjoy). Thankfully, although there is a good bit of future technology in 'A Family War' it is not at the expense of a story well told.

The set up is a future Earth where business rules and the technologically enhanced Oligarchs are the top of the tree. The Oligarchs are scientifically enhanced humans with almost Godlike powers and our heroine, Helena, is one of them. The world is on the verge of a new World War and the only hope of preventing a possible genocide is a small child, which Helena must find.

Where the story really comes alive here is the world in which the reader is taken, obviously future earth but still close enough that the possibilities are plausible. The rich get all they can afford while those without struggle on. The differences in class are notable but Helena may have to overcome these differences if the world is to survive.

I will say that not all character motives are clear (which is a good thing) but once things start to drop into place the reader may need to re-evaluate the way they thought the story was going.

The good points - fast paced story, believable and not too complicated technology, good and vivid world building populated with interesting characters

The bad points - my only real gripe comes back to the technology, it did get slightly repetitive at times but that wasn't to the detriment of the story so I'm happy to let that slide.

As a first book in a series 'A Family War' sets things up nicely for further volumes (which I will certainly be looking out for) and the fact that this is a debut novel, well, that leaves me quite excited for Mr Hotston's future. The Big Time beckons (and please, somebody, make a movie of this)


Monday 20 June 2016

Portmanteau by Paul Beardow - A Review

Portmanteau, by Sheffield author Paul Beardow , is not going to be an easy book to review - but don't worry, it's for all the right reasons. The thing is, there are so many twists and turns, so many WTF just happened moments and I don't want to spoil a single one of them.

The story revolves around Psychic Investigator Harry Macadam and his team at the Portmanteau Investigations Agency and a missing person case. Each member of Portmanteau has a different kind of 'Psychic Ability'. You've got a hacker who can find anything on any computer, a guy that can 'wind back time, like a film to see what happened at certain points and others that you will come across as the story progresses. As often happens the missing person case links to a dead body pulled from a river and links that Harry and co. discover lead back to a truly despicable underworld trafficking ring. When you throw Harry's personal/home life into the mix you get a good depth of story and a decent feel for believable characters.

I must say I found this a remarkable story. I was drawn in from the start (I finished it in a couple of days) and from early on there was a sense of something being 'not quite right'. When the twists, turns, revelations came however they were certainly not what I expected. Many times I found myself backtracking as I thought 'if that just happened then that earlier thing could not have just happened' - but thanks to the clever writing and planning by the author I was proved wrong. He even pulled off one death scene (I'm trying not to spoilerise things, but, 'hey, it's a thriller, people die in it' isn't totally unexpected) that many authors would not have managed. Harry's is a crazy world that makes a lot of sense.

For me, the sign of a good story is something that keeps you thinking long after the final page and a week after I finished I'm still on the 'did he really just do that?' track

This is a novel of layers and I believe it will benefit from a reread before the second Harry Macadam story comes out later this year.

I've thought long and hard about the star rating and have decided.............(Drum Roll)............

4.3 out of 5 stars - An interesting, puzzling 'onion' of a book from a first time author with a lot of promise. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Beardow

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Deep Magic (Issue 50, June 2016)

Deep Magic is (was) a magazine of 'clean' fiction in the fantasy genre from 2002 to 2006. It shut down after 49 issues but now, 10 years later, it is back in electronic form with a bumper 50th issue.

Just to clarify here, 'clean' fiction is stories without sex, gratuitous violence or strong language. This does not affect the quality of the stories here though. The lack of the aforementioned sex, violence and strong language does not detract from the quality of the stories provided for your entertainment (in fact, if anything, it felt quite refreshing at times). The whole description of 'clean' may make you think 'Young Adult' but Deep Magic is not a 'YA' magazine (not that I'm saying there is anything wrong with 'YA')

So, what do you get in Deep Magic? Five short stories, all of which I enjoyed and by authors I will be looking out for again. They cover fantasy/ magic settings in the main but there is also the SF tinged 'The Perfect Specimen' (which, although not a bad story was probably my least favourite). Added to this, you get the first 6 chapters of Charlie N. Holmberg's new novel, 'Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet' (which is certainly going on my 'To Read' list)

That is not all though.........within these pages there is an article by bestselling author Anthony Ryan ('How I Edit a Novel' - as someone quite new to the editing scene I found this both useful and interesting), Harper Voyager US Executive Editor David Pomerico (Returning To The Light) and interviews with cover artist Eamon O'Donoghue (who did the absolutely gorgeous cover for this edition, trust me, have a look, it is stunning), and a chap you may have heard of......

Brandon Sanderson.

This e-magazine has been sat on my kindle as bedtime reading for the last couple of weeks and I must say I have got a lot of enjoyment out of it. It is just the thing for that end of the day wind down. Will I be reading further editions - most certainly.

A high quality return for Deep Magic and if the standard remains this high I can see only good times ahead for them


Wednesday 8 June 2016

The Tiger and The Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky - A Review

Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the 10 book 'Shadows of the Apt' series has kicked off a new series and this time, instead of humans with insect attributes he gives us tribes of shape shifters........and does it well.

Maniye is the Wolf Clan Chieftain's daughter and, like all her tribe can shift to Wolf form. Her mother though was Queen of the enemy Tiger Tribe and because of this she is also able to take Tiger form. The problems this causes lead her to run away but her father needs her as he plans to use her in his plans to take over the north. He sends Broken Axe, one of his warriors to fetch her back.......the chase is on.

As with SotA Adrian's world building really brings this book to life. The cold north is a believable place as are the people who populate it. The first time I read a character shifting to Wolf form was a real 'goosebumps' moment - and this is coming from someone who isn't a massive fan of Werewolf fiction.

This door stop of a book is an excellent start to the series and the future volumes are only going to get better. If you haven't got a copy yet go get one now, and, if possible, go for the physical copy - the cover art is gorgeous.

Often I don't give a first book in a series full star rating as I like to leave room to rate upwards in later volumes but this time I have to - it really is storytelling of the highest order

5/5 stars

Ashley's Tale by Mike Duke - A Review

Ashley's Tale is only short (around 54 pages) but it certainly packs plenty in. It starts in brutal fashion with Ashley being kidnapped at knife point and, to be honest it made for slightly uncomfortable reading for a short while. Things picked up quickly though when the realisation of what was happening kicked in. It's tricky to review this short story without dropping spoilers so I'm going to trust and hope that you will pick it up and see for yourself.

I will say though that following Ashley's journey was interesting with enough twists and revelations to keep
momentum going. The ending leaves things open for more of the story.

In short, a dark, intense, violent tale of revenge with characters of dubious morality that hooked me in. For a first time author this is impressive stuff - bring on the next

4/5 stars

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Last Call At The Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger - A Review

Well, I didn't know quite what to expect when this popped through my letterbox. The press release seemed to be selling it as a Buffy The Vampire Slayer style urban fantasy set in the bars of Chicago (So, Buffy The Bartender I guess). Thankfully I'm a big Buffy fan so decided to give it a go - good choice as it turns out.

The story itself revolves around Bailey Chen, a college graduate who is now living back with her parents while searching for employment. Until she finds that 'perfect job' her 'best friend from high school', Zane, has got her a job working in the back of a bar. As it turns out Zane and his co-workers are no ordinary barrels - using various specifically mixed cocktails gives them certain powers for a limited time (example Martini = invisibility) and they use these powers to keep the drinkers of Chicago safe from demons that prey on them when alcohol has had it's effect.
After stumbling onto the fact she is a natural radiologist Bailey soon becomes part of the team. There is much for the reader to enjoy with this book.The three main strands -fighting the Tremens (the aforementioned demons), the search for the perfect Long Island Ice Tea (the Holy Trail of cocktails that could have devastating consequences for the human race if it falls into the wrong hands) and all the 'personal life's stuff you would expect from this kind of book - all sit well together and the story as a whole certainly left me hoping there will be more.

What makes this book that little bit different is that throughout the story there are sections from The Devil's Water Dictionary which is, basically, the mixologists must have guide to cocktails and their uses. Very entertaining and useful if you wish to make your own cocktails (I'll certainly be trying a few out).

All in all this was a fun read and if you are a fan of Buffy and Urban Fantasy certainly worth your time. Also, the book itself is really nicely put together so well done Quirk Books for that.

4/5 stars